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Damaged Dream Chaser Can be Fixed and Program to Move Forward with Flight Tests – Video

Left landing gear failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2103.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.  See video below

Left landing gear tire visibly failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Watch approach and landing test video below

The privately built Dream Chaser ‘space taxi’ that was damaged after landing during its otherwise successful first ever free-flight glide test on Saturday, Oct 26, is repairable and the program will live on to see another day, says the developer Sierra Nevada Corp., (SNC).

The Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle skidded off the runway and landed sideways when its left landing gear failed to deploy at the last second during touchdown on runway 22L at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president for SNC Space Systems, at a media teleconference.

The primary goal of the Oct. 26 drop test was to see whether the Dream Chaser mini-shuttle would successfully fly free after being released by an Erickson Air-Crane from an altitude of over 12,000 feet and glide autonomously for about a minute to a touchdown on the Mojave desert landing strip.

“We had a very successful day with an unfortunate anomaly at the end of the day on one of the landing gears,” said Sirangelo.

Dream Chaser is one of three private sector manned spaceships being developed with funding from NASA’s commercial crew program known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative to develop a next-generation crew transportation vehicle to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station – totally lost following the space shuttle retirement.

Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 - in this screenshot.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

The unmanned approach and landing test (ALT) accomplished 99% of its objectives and was only marred by the mechanical failure of the left tire to drop down and deploy for a safe and smooth rollout.

SNC released a short 1 minute video of the test flight – see below – showing the helicopter drop, dive, glide and flare to touchdown. The failure of the landing gear to drop is clearly seen. But the video cuts away just prior to touchdown and does not show the aftermath of the skid or damage to the vehicle.

“The Dream Chaser spacecraft automated flight control system gently steered the vehicle to its intended glide slope. The vehicle adhered to the design flight trajectory throughout the flight profile. Less than a minute later, Dream Chaser smoothly flared and touched down on Edwards Air Force Base’s Runway 22L right on centerline,” said SNC in a statement with the video.

The vehicle is “repairable and flyable again,” Sirangelo noted.

More good news is that the ships interior was not damaged and the exterior can be fixed.

Dream Chaser measures about 29 feet long with a 23 foot wide wing span and is about one third the size of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters.

Left landing gear failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 - in this screenshot.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Left landing gear failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Since there was no pilot in the cockpit no one was injured. That also meant that no evasive action could be taken to drop the gear.

“We don’t think it’s actually going to set us back,” Sirangelo noted. “In some interesting way, it might actually accelerate it.

NASA’s commercial crew initiative aims at restoring America’s manned spaceflight access to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) – perhaps by 2017 – following the forced shutdown of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.

Until an American commercial space taxi is ready for liftoff, NASA is completely dependent on the Russian Soyuz capsule for astronaut rides to the ISS at a cost of roughly $70 million per seat.

Because Congress continues to significantly cut NASA’s budget further delays can be expected – inevitably meaning more payments to Russia and no savings for the American tax payer.

SNC was awarded $227.5 million in the current round of NASA funding and must successfully complete specified milestones, including up to five ALT drop tests to check the aerodynamic handling in order to receive payment.

Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 - in this screenshot.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

This particular vehicle had been intended to fly two test flights. Further drop tests were planned with a new test vehicle to be constructed.

The way forward is being evaluated.

“We don’t think there is going to be any significant delay to the program as a result of this. This was meant to be a test vehicle with a limited number of flights,” Sirangelo said.

SNC and NASA have assembled a team to investigate the cause of the anomaly.

“SNC cannot release any further video at this time,” said SNC.

Dream Chaser is a reusable mini shuttle that launches from the Florida Space Coast atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and lands on the shuttle landing facility (SLF) runway at the Kennedy Space Center, like the space shuttle.

Ken Kremer

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Aqua4U October 29, 2013, 10:36 PM

    Thank Cod quoth the fisherman! Great to hear that the damage wasn’t a complete show stopper. Updates appreciated….

    • gopher652003 October 29, 2013, 10:56 PM

      Indeed. The good news is that now they know how the vehicle preforms when one of the rear landing gears fails to deploy:). As we all know from air travel, that type of thing happens occasionally, and the results of such a failure need to be known ahead of time for proper accident assistance when it finally happens in a crewed vehicle.

  • rhvh2000 October 29, 2013, 11:59 PM

    There’s a disturbing aspect of this incident. It relates to the transparency of the disclosures (and the delay in making them). Note the following two quotes from the article:

    “But the video cuts away just prior to touchdown and does not show the aftermath of the skid or damage to the vehicle.”

    “SNC cannot release any further video at this time,” said SNC.

    This is not the transparency we have grown accustomed to since the 1960s from NASA, even when they experienced failures. It seems to imply they (SNC) are hiding something. SNC is using a government facility and they have a duty to be transparent. Universe Today should consider filing a Freedom of Information Act request to force them to disgorge the video they are holding back.

    • gopher652003 October 30, 2013, 12:06 AM

      They’re not a government agency. They wouldn’t have to comply. They barely qualify as a government contractor (for this project) right now. Rather, they’re in a competition to become a government contractor. I’d imagine they’d laugh at the request and say “we’re not going to give operational details to our competitors by making this video public”. That’s what I’d do if I were them:P.

      • rhvh2000 October 30, 2013, 12:09 AM

        Right, SNC is not a government agency. But Edwards Air Force Base is part of a government agency, and I would be surprised if they have no video or photos of the incident.

  • AA amt 1987 October 30, 2013, 1:04 AM

    Love the fuzzy dice!

  • LSAGuy October 30, 2013, 1:21 AM

    Say what you want about the benefits of an automated flight program, but if a pilot had been informed that the left main gear was hanging he would have pulled the gear back up and landed the aircraft on its belly and done a lot less damage.

    • BeanCounterFromDownUnder October 30, 2013, 3:45 AM

      Just saw you’re post. Absolutely agree. This vehicle isn’t a capsule after all. It’s a lifting body design and a fair bit of ‘wing’ area.

    • Aqua4U October 30, 2013, 4:18 PM

      Donno if I agree? Because I feel that it is, ‘Better safe than sorry!’ The first manned flight, were it to fail, might be a show stopper for SN and the Dream Chaser?

    • Olaf2 October 31, 2013, 7:39 PM

      You can easily press a button and the autopilot do the exact same thing.

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder October 30, 2013, 3:44 AM

    Why are they fluffing around with automatic guidance? Why don’t they just go straight to a test pilot to fly the thing? Seems like that’s what they’re for. After all, commercial aircraft aren’t tested in this fashion. Someone gets into the pilot’s seat and flies the beast.
    Engineering in auto landing equipment, etc, is just adding additional and I would say, unnecessary expense.

    • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE October 30, 2013, 1:43 PM

      Because of Federal budget cuts, they would not be able to afford to ‘rebuild’ the test pilot, after a crash, into a bionic man. ;-)

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